Opinions are calculated
Immune to openness
All of the air rushed out of my lungs as, for the second time that day, realization violently slammed me in the gut. I fought the urge to be sick all over the newly clean floor, as though purging my insides could rid me of the poison I'd carried around and never acknowledged until now. Duo Maxwell never lies, but he's capable of serious self-delusion. I swallowed hard past the bitter shame, stalling until I was sure I wouldn't heave.
After a few more deep breaths, I raised my eyes, ready to come clean, bring it into the open and beg his forgiveness for misjudging him. I didn't know how much groveling it would take, but I'd gladly do it.
The words never left my mouth. Trowa shook his head, the barest flick of motion indicating he'd moved at all. "I didn't expect him to survive. I didn't even think he was alive until I got back to the circus and noticed he was still breathing. All I was thinking then was I had to get him away, to make sure OZ didn't get their hands on his body, not after what he'd done to make sure the colonies survived. To make sure we survived...to finish what was started."
"All I had to put him back together with was a glorified field kit. Every day, I expected to come in and find him dead." His lips quirked, but it was more grimace than smile. "Cathrine kept asking questions and I didn't have any answers, not ones that I could trust if they found their way to the right ears." He sighed, but the sound was steel, strong and unyielding. "Contacting you, or Quatre, would have been signing all of our death warrants."
Green eyes caught me then, pierced through me like a bullet and I flinched. I'd swear Trowa was psychic, he was hitting so close to the mark. I'd been told before that most everything I'm thinking shows on my face, but I never thought it was really true. I thought I was better at hiding than that, but he had me dead to rights.
"And what if I had told you? What if I told you, and you risked all our lives to find us...just to watch him die?" His lips quirked again, but this time the smile won out. "I'm not sorry, Duo. I'm not sorry for trying to spare you that, and I'm not sorry for trying to keep the rest of us alive. Given the opportunity to do it all again... I'd do the same thing."
Of all the things he could have said, the ways he could have reacted, this was the one I least expected, and the one I should have most anticipated. Unfortunately, my brain was spinning its wheels somewhere in the vicinity of 'signing all our death warrants'.
Why? Because it made sense. Because it had been for the greater good. Wasn't that why we'd been sent to Earth in the first place? Aside from the whole 'destroy OZ, peace for the colonies through terrorism' angle, that is. We were tools, instruments used in shaping an existence where planet and colony could coexist, neither master nor slave but...as something closer to equals. Held up alongside that important goal, the inconvenience of my would-be lovelife woes seemed very small. I didn't go to Earth to hang out, sightsee, or gawk in amazement at so much water in any one place. I sure the hell hadn't gone to get laid or fall in love.
Amazing how we can lose sight of our priorities in view of a nice spandex-covered tush.
I felt faintly dizzy, like I was flying too high without oxygen. My lips tried for words again, but Trowa forced them back down my throat with a flick of his hand. "Don't apologize, Duo. You can be sorry for being selfish, but never be sorry for being human." The self-conscious smile came back, but something else supported it, warm and honest. "Besides, you made things right with me a long time ago."
He didn't specify. He didn't have to. In my mind, I could see Quatre Raberba Winner as I had that day on his colony. I was hardly one to criticize, but he looked far too thin, deep hollows carved in cheeks starved of their baby fat. Skinny shoulders bent from carrying a too-heavy burden of guilt. The worst had been the eyes: empty, lonely eyes with no light left in them, even when he spoke of fighting for peace.
Just like my eyes when I thought Heero was dead.
' I don't think I can be forgiven, but I want to risk everything to atone,' he'd said, small hands clenching a china teacup.  It was a familiar concept he spoke of; Catholics are all about atonement. I knew too well the feeling that you'd killed those you cared about most.
And I remembered just how hard this fragile-looking tower of strength had fought to get my head back in the game after Heero blew himself up. Never prying, never pressing, just supporting and waiting while gradually directing me back to the path. It hadn't been his fault Heero pulled a Jesus Christ on me and walked among the living again. He didn't know. He hadn't seen or heard from Trowa then, either.
But if he had, I knew he would have told me. He might have had to tie me down by my hair to keep me from doing something stupid, but he would have told me.
Trowa's terrified face had flashed in front of my mind again, blank and devoid of any recognition, and the angry knife-throwing girl shielding him like a mother bear does a helpless cub. I didn't want to put Quatre through seeing him like that, not when guilt was already pulling him under. But I owed it to him, and I never liked being in debt to anyone else. 'If you're looking for the other Gundam pilots, you'll want to see him, too, I guess.' 
I saw the mind behind his eyes make the calculation in a millisecond, and a small seed of hope bloom past the pain. He shot up out of the chair. 'Duo...do you mean...?' 
I told him where I'd seen Trowa. After a few phone calls, I watched his shuttle blast off into the colony night, hoping that what I'd done was the right thing.
"It was." Green eyes drew me back into the present.
Dammit, I have really got to keep my inner monologue inner. "I still should've told him you wouldn't recognize him." C'mon, Trowa, let me hold onto some of this guilt. I'm not quite ready to forgive myself completely.
The graceful, boneless shrug slid off his shoulders. "Everything has a way of working out, Duo. Don't give up on that yet."
I was about to ask him just what he meant by that, but he beat me to the punch again. And I once thought this guy was quiet? Sheesh. "For example, did you know Quatre nearly peed himself when you called last week, asking for advice about a house? Until you kept talking, he was certain we'd been found out."
"You're shitting me! He sure didn't act like it." I almost made the dignified, commanding, poised Winner heir wet his pants?
"Business demands a lot of him," Trowa returned, dryly serious. "He's had to learn to control such urges with his life in the public eye. Nothing makes the news feeds like a little incontinence." Mischievous smile tugging at his lips, he settled back in his chair, crossing arms and legs in one fluid motion. "But, even that worked out, didn't it?" I had to admit he was right; the house was amazing, and the planning and preparation that had gone into it left my head spinning.
"The last year has meant changes for all of us, and I'm sure this next one will bring even more. But they're so much easier to survive when you aren't alone." He craned his neck, as though trying to look around my living room. "Is Heero there? I'd really like to talk to him for a while."
A guilty flush rocketed up my cheeks and I squirmed on the couch, muttering something unintelligible.
"Where's Heero?" Those green eyes searched my face, a furrow appearing between his brows. Clearly it hadn't crossed his mind I might have called for another reason besides the house. Oh well, not like it occurred to me until he mentioned Heero. "Is something wrong, Duo?"
"Not here. I don't know where. Yes." I shook my head, bracing myself against the tempest of feeling his words had brought to the surface. Sympathy from almost anyone else I could handle, but not Trowa, and especially not then. We depend on him for strength, not softness, and despite all we'd discussed part of me still felt my stance with him was fragile. His eyes gently dissected me, waiting for me to speak, and I fought to squish the urge to lay right down and bawl. After all, I still had some shreds of pride left.
"He's been avoiding me," I admitted, finally putting into words the events of the past several days. "Things got a little...intense our first night here, and..." I held out my hands in a mute entreaty for answers. "He thinks he hurt me. And he won't believe otherwise, no matter what I tell him." I'd tried several things to get through to him, nothing working. He had me at arms' length or farther away at all times. Not like he came around me much in the last week. I just didn't know what to do. A proverb about glass houses and stones tickled my mind, or maybe it was just the shattered-crystal sound of my heart breaking.
Trowa cocked his head to one side, eyes unfocusing slightly as though he were taking a moment to carefully examine the information from all angles. "Understand, Heero is a soldier," he said at last, his gaze slowly tracking back to me. "Hurting people is what he has done for as long as he can remember. Peace was supposed to stop that. How could he ever forgive himself if he hurts the one closest to him?" He leaned towards the screen slightly, as though willing me to understand. "What are his mission parameters, Duo?" he asked quietly. "If he has set himself to a task, he won't allow himself to fail."
I wondered if perhaps Trowa wasn't only talking about Heero and being a soldier, the lone coherent thought amidst my fidgeting with the raw desire to do something. "The whole parameter mindset's the problem," I snapped. The words' bitterness stayed on my tongue long after I'd spit them out. "He's attending to it right now, Trowa. Heero's protecting me...from himself. He leaves in the morning, usually comes home late at night, barely speaks to me. I try to get close and he shies away...not always with his body, but inside." I tugged on the left front of my shirt for emphasis.
"He's holding back, and I can't make him understand that he didn't really hurt me," I growled out in frustration, flipping the end of my braid over my shoulder so violently it swung around and flopped against my other cheek. I was near exploding with the urge to move, to pace, to set to action the spin-cycle of feelings churning in me. For lack of something better, I settled for fidgeting, changing positions at least twice a minute.
Herr Professor's response was, predictably, more thoughtful silence. "Sometimes," he began, carefully folding his hands in front of him, "it's easy to forget how inexperienced Heero is. He is so strong and capable in everything else he does, we don't realize that in some things he simply doesn't know what to do." His gaze had drifted downward to his hands, and once again I felt that odd sense that he was speaking, not simply about Heero...but from a much more personal perspective. "Sometimes, all he needs is for someone to take his hand and show him the way." A slight, gentle smile curved Trowa's lips as he glanced up at me again. "He can't lead if he doesn't know where he's going."
That gave me pause, enough to send my rising freneticism into relative stillness. I settled back on the sofa with my ankles crossed and my knees hiked up as props for my elbows, chin in my hand and studying Trowa's flat image on the screen. Certainly, the words 'Heero' and 'inexperienced' had never occurred to me in the same sentence before, except for our very first night together. Talk about the blind leading the blind, or, rather, the virginal leading the virginal. We were clumsy, awkward, and hasty, having little concept of what was appropriate or proper. I'd hurt like hell the next day--and not just because of the generous hospitality of the OZ penal system--and couldn't really sit right for three more, but the skies had fallen, the earth had moved, and I knew I would have done anything to be with him forever.
The more I thought about what Trowa said, though, the more sense it made. It's moments like this that I'm glad I have this small, tight group of friends, because I sometimes get too wound up to see the obvious, too charged by the sheer intensity of what I feel, and I need the wisdom that is in their eyes. Though he doesn't always offer it, Trowa's wisdom is some of the best. That he would still offer it to me, knowing how I had despised him and that secret he kept, was a far greater gift than the house. It was hope, hope that it wasn't too late to heal our camaraderie, or to heal things between me and Heero.
Take his hand. Show him the way.
"Does this mean Quatre and I are alike, too?" I asked, lacing my fingers together so my forearms were perpendicularly balanced atop my knees. Already, a nervous, desperate plan was whirring in my mind, something that just might be bold enough to make Heero's ass mine.
His smile broadened slightly, a gleam in his eyes as he tacitly acknowledged that I had struck the mark. "In some ways, perhaps. Not all."
"I know I couldn't deal with, well, being him," I said, with a vague gesticulation of my hands meant to encompass the world's weight of responsibilities that Quatre carted around on his slender shoulders, "nearly as well as he does." We both knew, I think, that I was stalling, trying to delay or deny the inevitable conclusion.
He set the glasses back on his nose with an elegant flair. They gave his expression a more serious cant once again, combined with that lean body neatly folded into his seat. "Heero cares, Duo. He wouldn't be with you, wouldn't care whether he hurt you, if he didn't."
While not entirely a conscious decision, the mechanics of my sexual relationship with Heero had always seemed to flow a certain way. Not a matter of submission, mind you--neither of us are spaghetti-spined--but more like...batting order. Granted, said mechanics had abruptly reversed course in Brussels, but that was in a moment built on desperation and a frantic bid to turn Heero's thoughts away from self-destruction. While not the firmest foundation, suicide prevention was, in my mind, far sturdier than the shifting sands comprising this new motivation. 'I want to fuck you so you will stop running away' sounds so...needy. Ugh.
I glanced back at Trowa, still floundering. Was I reading him correctly? If it were possible for guileless and smug to both share the same bland facade, yes. More, I had the strangest sensation he was challenging me. He had been largely responsible for engineering our move here, but the look in his eyes dared me. He is the adult of our small group, the quiet and strong niichan  who, in his own tacit way, protects every one of us, not just Quatre.
That protection especially applies to Heero--pissed as it made me for some time, I had to admit that Heero was alive today only because of him--and I slowly understood why. Heero cared, Trowa said...and he was asking if I cared, too. How much did I care? Was I man enough to fight for what I wanted, even if it shoved me face-first out of my comfort zone? Was I willing to do whatever it took?
Ultimately, I had only one answer. I think he knew that, too.
Trowa watched me like a hawk, offering no respite from the intense glitter of the single emerald eye that showed beneath his jagged auburn hair. At last he nodded, as though sensing the tenor of the thoughts whirling through my mind. "You understand?" he asked quietly.
That brief, embarrassingly naughty clutter of images ran back through my head as I worried my lower lip between my teeth. "Yeah, I think I do. I promised I wouldn't leave him alone, Trowa. I need him." Tilting my head just a bit, one corner of my mouth snaked up in a very slight smile. "Though, these are not the kind of thoughts a good Catholic boy should be having..."
The tall boy laughed, and the laughter held an almost wicked edge to it. "No, I don't suppose they are... but I don't think a good Catholic boy is what Heero needs."
"It's a good thing I'm a bad Catholic boy then, ne?" Had I wasted so much time in being subconsciously angry that I'd never noticed how much fun Trowa could be? That year we all spent apart seemed to have been exceptionally kind to him...he was more open, if still on the reticent side, he laughed, even teased, yet without losing his chameleon's edge. If this is what a year alone with Quatre could do for him, what could a year alone with me do for Heero...?
At that point, my insides and much of my brain were reduced to mush, leaving behind just enough ecchi thoughts to have me shifting positions on the couch. Some small part of me felt shame at how quickly the battle instincts rose to the surface, but ultimately the five of us are fighters no matter the circumstances. Divide and conquer, I decided. Divide the doubts and conquer the body. And lay claim once more to the brilliant, beautiful soul inside. "I just found him again. I'm not about to let him go," I declared fiercely.
"I'm glad." He looked down, that introspective, thoughtful look once more claiming his features. "I'm glad he has you." He closed his eyes briefly, taking a slow breath, a small bit of static interference on the screen coinciding with his gentle sigh. "It's not easy for the soldier to survive when the war is gone." Once again I thought I glimpsed some brief, subtle implication that he was not simply speaking for Heero. "Help him find sanctuary, Duo."
Sanctuary. Something clicked in my brain when he said that. "The real estate company, it was your idea?" I only half phrased it in the form of a question. Who would know better how to transition soldiers into human beings than a soldier himself?
He inclined his head in a brief, affirmative nod. "Not entirely mine. In truth, you should thank Becky. Her husband was an Earth Federation soldier, and in looking for some way to help both of us adjust more completely we came up with Sanctuary. She does most of the work," he ruefully admitted, tugging the glasses back off, "but I helped bring it to Quatre's attention. The concept of it touches something very deep and personal in the both of us."
He was reflectively silent, and then the devilish smile returned full-force. "As for you and Heero, I'd suggest a little warm, scented massage oil." Widening, that little smile became a touch more wicked, silvered flecks frolicking through his verdant eye. "I'll let you figure out what to do with it."
Trowa's implications were impossible to ignore. I'm not sure if they conjured in my mind exactly what he intended, but the images made me want to crank on the air conditioner. And wonder where the hell one found something like scented massage oil in this small town. If I was blushing, though, I damn sure wasn't going to admit it. Nor would I admit my relative ignorance in this matter. Male pride is a horrible cross to bear, but it's mine and I've earned it.
He eyed me for a long moment, and I had a funny feeling he was trying hard not to laugh again. "Check the top drawer of the nightstand. I suspect Quatre may have left you a few provisions." The lips twitched, the eyes danced. "He's helpful that way."
Word of advice? When Trowa Barton grins at you like that, run. I made a mental note never to open that nightstand for fear of what I might find. You laugh, but I have a very vivid imagination...
We talked a little longer before he gracefully steered the subject towards less emotionally taxing issues--news of Quatre's business dealings, a funny anecdote Cathrine had shared in her latest letter, well-wishes from the Maguanac corps. I gathered from this conversation that he and Quatre frequently spent time during the week at WEI on L4 and weekended on Earth. Made me wonder what the heck he did with his time, since there'd been no mention of the circus in present tense.
He pushed his glasses back on and I teased him about becoming an old man of seventeen, threatening to give him a shawl and a walker the next time I saw him. I took it a step further and said that his bangs were really a cover-up for a receding hairline. He laughed and tagged me back by insisting my hair was an obvious attempt to compensate for some other inadequacy. It felt...good, this playing back and forth.
It felt right, as though the world had been grossly out of balance before. Instead of fixing it earlier in the game, I had simply adjusted to how it was, learned to function on a tilted axis. Talking to Trowa, getting all of that out of my system, homeostasis had been restored, and the ground beneath me at last felt solid enough to stand on. I didn't deserve his support or his friendship, but I was thankful to have them both.
"I hate to cut the conversation short," Trowa said, "but Quatre will be home soon and I have to at least pretend I earned my keep today." He undid the top button of his shirt, fanning the material slightly apart at the neck. "I'm glad you called, Duo. I've been wanting, meaning to talk about all this with you for a while. I guess I just never made the time. I'm sorry."
I shook my head, wry smile curving my mouth. "Is this how our conversations are going to go from now on, endless successful and attempted apologies? No," I answered my own question, "that would probably get very boring. How about...I just say thanks? Thanks...for everything." For not hating me, for believing that I'm worthy of Heero, for setting aside this pocket of perfection for our new lives.
Trowa leaned in once again towards the vid screen, the top of his head completely disappearing from my view. "He needs you so much, Duo. The words may not be there, but...don't forget that he needs you. It's so hard when summoning even the simplest caring words is a foreign concept." Real pain showed in his eye, and I realized that Trowa was trying to spare us some of what he and Quatre had been through.
"Believe in him, Duo. Believe that what the two of you can have is worth fighting for." That small smile curved his mouth like a bow. "You're like Quatre in that way, too." One final glance exchanged, he disconnected the call, leaving me alone in my living room with a blank vidphone.
And a challenge I couldn't refuse.
"I'll do it," I said to the empty air, knowing Trowa was gone but believing that somehow he heard me. I stood up, seized with the sudden thought that if I was an anime character, there would be crashing waves against the cliffs in the background as I declared my intentions. If only life were as simple as anime...
Nevertheless, I clutched one hand into a fist at chest height; it couldn't hurt to play along with my mental imagery.
"I'll fight for him."
However, I couldn't do anything until Heero returned, and waiting has never been my strong point. I was determined to fight for him, but the longer I had to concoct mental pictures of my perfect seduction going down in flames, the more nervous I became. And obsessive. I rewashed the dishes Granny Fran left in the drying rack. I organized the refrigerator--first alphabetically, then by color. I brushed my teeth twelve times. I even flossed - never mind that I only recently learned it was for teeth and not something else. Frantic action was but a temporary substitute for what I wanted to do, and the only way to keep myself steadily breathing.
That same panic that gripped me in a dormitory shower had me in a stranglehold while I paced in the kitchen, stealing furtive glances at the snapshot of faded innocence on the fridge. The Duo I was then hadn't been shy about touching Heero, despite the gigantic cultural gap concerning physical contact. Even before I knew how I felt, my hands had a mind of their own, eager to reinforce tangibility between us. Stupid, insane, or both back then; now, I was just scared.
Too much was riding on this, I thought, and what made my insides ache was knowing if I fucked this up, I could kiss goodbye any kind of future with Heero. It would be over before it even started.
I snatched the picture out from under the magnet, studying with care that beloved face. "We just got here, Heero," I whispered, stroking the edge of my finger across his forehead; what I wouldn't give to ruffle those bangs in person. "You can't give up yet. Running and hiding is what I do." The knot in my throat made it hard to swallow. "I'm not sure I know how to find, but I want to try. For you, I'd try anything."
Crossing the few steps to the glass deck doors, I noticed the sun cast long, ruddy reflections of itself across the infinite waters as it drew closer to setting. That's right, days were shorter in January, despite the relatively mild California climate. Twilight would soon draw her blanket of stars and night over the world, but it didn't seem possible the day had mostly passed.
I leaned my forehead against the glass, ignoring the smudge I left, and let its cool touch usher stillness back into me. The distant rush of ocean filled my ears as I watched the waves faithfully return to the shore. Me returning to Heero. Heero returning to me. Timeless. Constant. I closed my eyes, letting my breathing gradually slow and calm in time with the tides.
When I opened my eyes again, I saw a slender, familiar figure, shoulders slumped and head bowed in thought, drift across the beach near tide's edge. With a resigned posture, he sank down onto the blanket I'd carelessly left on the sands yesterday, staring out at the waters. Everything about him--the hunched posture, the turned back, the self-imposed exile--screamed 'Leave me alone. I deserve to be alone.'
But I couldn't, especially not when he looked so lost. I'd promised him I wouldn't leave him alone, and it was a vow I'd die keeping. The mists of confusion and hesitance I'd been feeling melted away, leaving me at last with clear eyes and firm resolve.
Fuck the Duo Maxwell curse. I loved him. I needed him and he needed me. If I were to give up now, to withdraw and walk away and abandon him to this world he didn't yet understand, I would be killing him, as guilty as if I'd pulled the trigger.
"Not on your life, Yuy." I whispered, kissing the picture and tacking it back up on the fridge. "You're mine."
Crossing back to the French doors leading to the deck, and then soundlessly descending to the sands, I pointed my finger like a gun towards my distant lover, pulling it back just enough to pantomime the kick of the real thing.
 Taken from the fan translations of episode 38, courtesy of gundamwing.net
 Episode 19, when Heero breaks Duo out of the OZ prison
 "Niichan" is Japanese for 'big brother'. Depending on politeness, it can also be said as 'oniichan'.
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